Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 year in review

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2016 was a great year for me. And now, when it has almost ended, is a great opportunity to review it.

I will use last year’s format and talk about some of my achievements, future goals and this year’s reading list (it is in the end of the post).

 

Writing

This year I’ve written 10 posts on various topics. I’ve written almost 2 times less posts than last year, but some of my posts are way longer than my usual posts (the agile estimations series are 32 pages long!). This year the posts were less technical and they talked about management soft skills, self-improvement and leadership. These posts are hard to write. Despite that I think that this is the kind of posts that I should keep writing. However, I do want that some of my posts to be also technical.

2017: I want to write at least 12 posts. One post a month

 

My favorite posts of 2016

 

Public Speaking

This year I had a single public talk about website localization in a meetup (video will be up soon). It was great experience since I like presenting very much. I tend to present quite a lot internally in my company but no enough externally.

2017: I want to present at least 4 times at external meetups and conferences

Mentorship

I’ve done a lot this year. From leading different efforts and changes in the company to managing my project and day to day team responsibilities. Some of things went well and others are still in progress. I think that one of my strengths is the ability to execute and finish almost anything. This is all thanks to plenty of opportunities and guideless that allowed me to gain this experience. However, I think that my next step is not to keep executing lots of different efforts by myself. It is time to share the knowledge and start delegate my wishes to others, provide them with the different opportunities and guidance like that was given to me.

2017: I want to mentor others and help them make things happen

Learning

After 5 years I have finally finished my Computer Science degree. This is one the achievements that I’m happy that it is over, however I’m still proud I’ve done it. This year I’ve also learned React.js and its eco system.

In this year I want to learn a “big data” language, like R or Go or even Scala. I have a serious lack of knowledge when it comes to this area. I also want to learn the “electron” framework for creating desktop java script applications. And I want to strengthen my Node.js and React Native skills. They are not as strong as I want them to be.

2017: I want to learn a new programming language, Electron framework and strengthen my node.js and React Native skills. I want to build at least one project for each of this stack

Open source

This year I’ve contributed only once to an open source project (Polly, you can read about it in this post).

In this year I want to make a bigger contribution to the open source community.

2017: I want to contribute to at least 4 different open source projects.

 

Sports

This year was a hard year for me in terms of sports. Until May I was exercising like I was used too, 3-4 times a week in the gym and also running 10km 3 times a week. However, after the Mountain to Valley race, my knee was hurt and it forced me to stop exercising and running the way I wanted until now.

2017: I want to heal my knee and slowly come back to run at least 15km by the end of 2017

 

Reading

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I commute to work by train. I hate traffic. It is enjoying and forces you to stay focused on the road, without almost any ability to concentrate on something else. On the train however, I can sit comfortably and do whatever I want. It is 40 minutes, twice a day when I can work, write, rest and of course read. So I try to leave this time for reading. This year I’ve managed to read 13 books this way and also read a lot of stuff online (1% top reader of Pocket Smile). I love reading both books and online posts, however the books I find the most satisfying and teaching. In the end of the post you can find my 2016 reading list.

2017: I want to read at least 13 books.

 

The best for last – 2016 reading list

I want to share with you the books I’ve read and recommend the top 3.

 

1. Managing humans 3rd edition

This is a must read book for every manager. It has great tips for almost every possible situation. I started to use many of his recommendations and I already see the results.

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2. Zero to one

Very interesting book about the startup world. It focuses on the reasons for actually taking an idea and making it into a real product. It has a very unique view and it is written by one of the greatest enterpanures in the world.

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3. The hard things about hard things

I’m sure that you heard at least someone recommend this book. It touches parts that no one else talks about. This book makes you think, a lot.

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Here are the rest, I enjoyed all of them.

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Happy New Year everybody!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Weekly thoughts

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Previously I’ve talked about the importance of a dedicated time for personal reflection, a retrospective of your life. This tool helps me to improve in all aspects of my life. However, my job is a huge part of my life – and I want to make sure that I also constantly improve in it. Moreover, I want to make sure that I constantly improve it. Therefore I’ve create a method that allows me to retrospect my work in all its aspects and, most importantly – to share it with my manager. I call it “Weekly Thoughts”.

Every Wednesday evening, I have a scheduled slot in my calendar for some time for myself (it has to be in your calendar, because what is not in your calendar doesn’t exist). I write it down in an email and then send it to my manager. Unlike an actual retro, I use a slightly different format:

  1. Things I’m excited about:
  2. Things I’m concerned about:
  3. Inbound
    1. What is working and we should keep doing
    2. What is not working for me
    3. Opportunities
  4. Outbound
    1. What is working and we should keep doing
    2. What is not working for me
    3. Opportunities
  5. People
    1. Opportunities
  6. Recruiting
  7. What concerns my manager and how I can help him

As you can see, the format is different from a regular retro. The main reason is that it isn’t only a retro. Retro is a method for reflecting previous events. However, this method has several other purposes.

What is on your mind?

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I call it “weekly thoughts” on purpose. Look at the first two points: “Things I’m excited about” and “Things I’m concerned about”. Unlike a usual retro, I’m not looking for action items; I just try to understand what’s made me tick this week and what’s stopped me from ticking. It can be a cool feature that I delivered, a meetup that I’ve hosted or a simple conversation that made my week. Things that make you tick, that make you happy during the day, are worth mentioning. It is easy to talk about the bad stuff – I want to cherish the good stuff, too.

The things I’m concerned about, on the other hand, I do want to address. So sometimes I’ll create personal action items for them. However, sometimes I don’t know how to treat something – like if one of my team members is leaving, or if a decision takes too long to approve.

Those things are on my mind. They concern me. For good and for bad. There is someone who should know about them: my manager. I schedule the time for my weekly thoughts on a Wednesday since it is the day before my 1 on 1 with him. This allows me to be more prepared for our meeting and also allows him to better understand me. Weekly thoughts is such a powerful tool because it allows me to share the full context of my work with my manager.

Don’t keep your thoughts to yourself. Share, ask for advice or direction.

What is your role in the manager-employee relationship?

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There is an important truth that all of us sometimes forget.

We are not the only concern of our managers

They also have goals and tasks that do not necessarily concern us. Decisions that they want to take, some efforts they are pushing and, of course, tasks from their own manager. I’ve realized along the way that the fact I have a manager doesn’t mean this is a one-way relationship. I can help him as much as he helps me. I want my manager to succeed in his goals as much as he wants me to succeed in mine.

Therefore I have a special part in my format that is dedicated for the things that concern my manager and ways I can help him.

What happens in other aspects of your job?

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“Job” is a short word (so is “work”) that has many parts, aspects and responsibilities – so when I say that I want to improve my work, I want to improve it in all of its parts. I choose to divide my job into 4 aspects:

Inbound, outbound, people and recruiting (I know that in the future this format will change, since I’ll have more or different responsibilities. But it works for now).

I want to separately focus on each part, and try to see what “works for me” and what doesn’t. Each of these parts deserves its own retro.

In the inbound part, I focus on my team. How is our communication? How can we increase velocity? Are we happy? Do we celebrate wins? Do we achieve our goals, and so on.

In the outbound part, I focus on everything that is external to my team. The interfaces with our stakeholders, the product owner, peers and other teams in R&D, and the company in general. Does our work hurt them? How can we share our knowledge with them? And how can we improve our process?

The people part may seem unnecessary since I already have the “inbound” part. However, my team members deserve a focused and dedicated part just for them. In the inbound section I think mostly about us as a team, a group of people who work together and can do it better. In the “people” part, I try to better understand every one individually. What makes them tick, what concerns them and how can I help them?

The last part is recruiting. Not only is recruiting a very important responsibility, it also requires a lot of time and attention. Therefore it has a dedicated part in my format, in order to see what works for me in the recruiting process and what doesn’t. Where do I and all the other recruiters waste time that shouldn’t be wasted? And what methods I find better than others.

What opportunities are you missing?

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You can see that in almost every section there is an “Opportunities” part. Here I try to think a little about the future. What we should start doing now in order to improve or be ready for in the near-future. This is very powerful, since we rarely think about the future. We are so focused on today’s “fire” and tomorrow’s delivery that we basically never think about the opportunities we might be missing. By the way, you will need to miss some of those opportunities for whatever important reason. But there is a big difference when you knowingly miss opportunities and when you simply miss them because you are not aware of them in the first place.

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My first job was at the age of 12 (I washed the stairs of my building), and since then I have worked almost all the time – after school, in the summer, during my military service (I consider my army duty as a software engineer as work) and now. So for the last 13 years I’ve been constantly working. I have learned that if you try to think further ahead, constantly try to improve yourself and your surroundings, and share your thoughts with your manager, you will gain two very important things: Change and Trust.

Think about it ;)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Estimations​ ​in​ ​Agile development​ ​-​ ​Improving Estimations​ ​using​ ​Burndown, Burnup​ ​and​ ​Actual​ ​Time metrics

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This is the fourth and the last post in the Estimations in Agile development series.

  1. Epics, User Stories and Tasks

  2. Estimating User Stories with Story Points

  3. Sprint Planning Methods: Capacity vs. Velocity vs. Feature 

  4. Improving Estimations using Burndown, Burnup and Actual Time metrics (you are here)

In the previous post we’ve discussed the different methods for the sprint planning and the benefits of using absolute units like hours for estimating small efforts in a known time frame - the sprint.

In this post we’ll see some metrics that will help us verify and improve our estimations over time and even allow us to predict whether we’ll achieve our long term goals.

 

Burndown

After we finish estimating all the tasks we can create a rough estimation regarding the amount of work that has to be done (according to the daily capacity) in order to finish all the tasks on time.

The green line displays that available capacity for a current day. In other words – we need to make sure that our remaining work for the sprint is below the green line. Otherwise we won’t complete all the tasks on time.

Each day developers should update the “remaining work” field for their tasks – how much time is left for finishing the task. That metric will allow us to know whether we’ll finish all the estimated tasks or not.

The burndown might go up when new tasks are added or new information is discovered during the sprint.

The remaining work should be updated daily and the team should look at the chart in the daily stand up meeting. In this event we can easily see that our estimation are not correlating with our actual performance. The impact is clear: if the team proceeds with the current phase they won’t finish all the planned tasks for the sprint on time. Hence the user won’t receive a working product.

In this very moment the team should decide on the action to make the chart to convergent.

They can decide on giving some extra work to close the gap or perhaps remove the least prioritized task from the sprint – this is of course done with the product manager who is the stakeholder of the sprint.

The burndown chart is a daily feedback tool. it is effective only when it is updated on a daily basis. it is also another reason why I think one should use hours and not story points for the sprint’s tasks. when working with story points you don’t update the remaining time - you don’t change 3 SP tasks to 1 SP task, you simply work on it until it’s done. This way the burndown will not reflect your actual progress daily and it will be hard to understand if you are on track.

Actual vs. Estimated - Improving the team’s estimations

Even in a two weeks sprint we cannot know everything. Something will always surprise us. A larger than estimated task, an external requirement, un-expected technical support and more. Sometimes there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, however sometimes we can learn from these unaccurate estimations and correct them in the future. Therefore I suggest another metric which purpose is to compare our initial estimations to our actual performance.

After finishing a task, the team member will fill another field “Actual Work” with the actual time that took him to complete the task. This way we’ll create another graph that will compare the planned estimation to the actual one,  Allowing us to see which tasks were underestimated, overestimated and which were exactly as we predicted. Our purpose is to minify the gap between the actual and the estimated. ”why did the task take longer/less than we estimated? Could we do something in order to predict it?”  This graph is a great topic to start the retro meeting with.

 

Predicting the future with Burnup chart

The burndown chart allows us to monitor only a single and the current sprint. It allows the team a clear view on their progress in the sprint. However, it doesn’t tell if the team if the whole project is on track or will they finish it on time? Every stakeholder and manager wants to know when will the project, milestone or a release be ready.  It is hard to predict a date 3-6 months into the future. Any estimations for this feels like a hunch. “Well, we have 3 months left and 2 more big features, so I guess will make it on time”. How can we monitor our progress on a ~weekly basis?

Actually we can predict all this using our previous progress. Let’s say we are 4 sprints in (2 months) in a 6 months project. Will we make it on time? To answer this we need only 2 things:

  1. Estimated backlog (Epics/ user stories with their SP values)

  2. The Team’s average velocity

Average Velocity is the amount of story points that we finish in each sprint divided by the number of sprints (those who read the previous post probably understand that this metric won’t be too accurate but it is enough for this purpose).

Team’s average velocity for the last 4 sprints = (10 +8 + 6 +11)/ 4 = ~9.

The beauty of the team’s average Velocity is that it gets more accurate with every sprint. Therefore if we know the end date (4 months from now) and the average velocity, then we can predict how many story points the team will finish by that time.

We’ll take the previous chart and we’ll turn it into a cumulative

Now, based on the average velocity we can calculate how much SP we’ll finish in the future sprints.

All the data on the right of the black line (the present sprint) is predicted based on actual data from the previous sprints. You can see that after 12 sprints the team will finish ~110 Story Points. If the total required amount is 100-110 then it seems that we have the right velocity and we’ll finish the project on time.  But we all know that the above chart is too good to be true. The below one is probably more realistic:

This chart is called burnup and it allows a clear, data driven, look at the future. Based on this data the team, and everyone else, knows that the project won’t be ready on time. The velocity should be higher, the ETA should move or the project scope should change. Either way -this is not a hunch.

 

Summary

In this post we’ve seen 3 ways to improve our estimations and predictability. The actual vs. estimated is the best tool to verify and improve your estimations over time and the burnup will let you know you need to speed up your development, even if you finish all sprints on time. The key is to constantly check yourself and improve.

In this series we covered lots of topics regarding Agile development and estimations. It is important to remember that there is no “right” way to do Agile. There are common fundamentals but different teams should use and adopt the principles and process that suits them best. And remember that nothing is constant -  something that used to be “right” for you then, may not be right anymore. So keep retroing yourself and your process, keep fine tune it all the time and I hope that you’ll find what is best for you.

Feel free to share and comment.

Estimations in Agile development – Epics, User Stories and Tasks

Estimations in Agile development – Estimating User Stories with Story Points

Estimations in Agile development – Sprint Planning Methods: Capacity vs. Velocity vs. Feature

Estimations in Agile development - Improving Estimations using Burndown, Burnup and Actual time metrics (you are  here)